DANIEL: Down the home straight

Daniel Ricciardo talks victories, belly-flops and that decision. 2018, he says, has been weird.

15 down, six to go. There’s a definite sense we’re into the home straight of 2018 and, for Daniel Ricciardo, also the sense that we’re fast approaching the end of an era. Heading off to pastures new at the end of the year, we caught up with Daniel to discuss the season so far. It’s been a strange one for our Aussie superstar with a couple of career defining performances, a Monaco monkey most definitely removed from the back and that announcement, all of which have combined to create what Daniel describes as ‘the weirdest season I’ve had in racing.’ That’s probably a good place to start…

Daniel, some very high points this year but a few lows as well. What’s it been like from inside the cockpit?

It’s been the weirdest season I’ve had in racing! Winning two of the first six races is probably the strongest start I’ve ever had to an F1 season. After Monaco, I was thinking that the season looked very promising, and that we might even be in with an outside chance of fighting for the title. I still feel I’m driving well and applying myself properly but for all sorts of reasons it hasn’t really worked out since then. My confidence has never dipped – but my motivation and love for the sport has been a bit up and down – though I tend to bounce back from that pretty quickly.

Of course, next year you’re not going to be in our garage. How does that feel?

It feels mostly real – but honestly, I think when the chequered flag drops in Abu Dhabi, and I take off the Red Bull overalls for the last time, that’s when it’s going to hit me. It’s not so much the ‘moving to Renault’ part, as it is the ‘closing the book on this part of my career’ bit. From an emotional point of view, that’s when it’s going to hit me.

I’ve been wearing a Red Bull helmet for over a decade now. It’s been a fun journey and we’re certainly not splitting on bad terms. I’m ready for something new. I’m going to be 30 next year and I felt like it was time for the next part of my adulthood. It may sound silly but, having been with Red Bull for so long, I felt it was time I made a decision for myself and put myself out there. It’s been a very good journey with Red Bull but sometimes it has been very easy because everything is so familiar. It would be easy to slip into some form of complacency, get stuck in a routine. I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to challenge myself again.

Back to this year, your season really ignited in China. What are your memories of winning in Shanghai?

That it was a whirlwind of a weekend and the most perfect team performance imaginable!

We had a blow-up on Saturday morning practice and it really didn’t look like we’d be making it out for qualifying. In my mind, I’d already resigned myself to the idea of starting from the back. I was actually pretty miserable at that point, because the previous week in Bahrain I’d only managed one lap of the race before we stopped with a problem, so it really didn’t look good.

Then the mechanics pulled off a miracle. They’re an amazing bunch of people, both inside and outside the garage, but when they’ve got a job to do they’re just incredibly efficient at getting it done: this wasn’t the first time they’ve pulled one out of the fire like that. I made qualifying and went into Sunday just happy to be starting the race towards the front of the pack.

The Safety Car, and the decision to call me into the pits changed the race. It wasn’t a call I could have made. The strategists and engineers had to react quickly, they made an instant decision and it was the right one. It got me out on fresh tyres and put me in a position to make some moves.

Honestly, you don’t get many races like that. Teamwork is everything – but across my whole career I don’t think there’s been another race where it’s been so obviously a massive, collective team effort. Everyone did their part: the mechanics; the engineers; the strategists and me. Everything just meshed in China and it was lovely to be part of that.

At times, you can feel very alone in the car, and I like that: I like the individual side of F1 because I’ve always enjoyed individual sports and having the ownership of your performance that comes with it – but when you’ve had a day that works out in a team sport, and everyone in the team knows they’ve contributed to that achievement, it makes the celebration so much better.

If China was a little bit unexpected, in Monaco you were a hot favourite. Does that bring extra pressure – especially after not winning the race in 2016?

To be honest, I’ve carried that 2016 result around for a bit – there’s definitely been a chip on the shoulder about what was an insanely frustrating weekend, and I knew it wasn’t going away until I won the race. I don’t think that was a negative feeling – I wasn’t angry about it. If anything, it was a confidence boost: it reminded me that I could do it and that I should go out and enjoy driving in Monaco – but bloody well get the job done this time! After the race in 2016 there were lots of people commiserating, telling me I should have won it. That’s all well and good but my name wasn’t on the wall and I didn’t have the trophy. It was a relief to put my name in the book, get the trophy and jump in the pool.

About jumping into the pool. Are we calling that a swan dive or a belly-flop?

Coming into the weekend I knew I’d have to jump in if I won – but I didn’t give it much thought until after the chequered flag! I knew Webber had done the backflip. That was a problem. I’m not as acrobatic as Mark, so I wouldn’t look as good. Frankly, I was worried nothing I could do would be cool enough. Then I thought of the movie Me, Myself & Irene – I’m a big Jim Carrey fan – and he does this massive belly-flop off a bridge. I was 90 per cent committed to that, then Lewis suggested in the press conference that I should do one – which made it 100 per cent. I thought I was pretty graceful!

Monaco must be a big tick on the bucket list…

Yep. If you could only win two races in a career, then Monaco and your home race would be the ones. Melbourne’s the race I’ve really got to win now. There’s so much support there, from all the fans who turn up and spend the money to be there and cheer me on. I think being able to stand on the podium at your home race and hear your national anthem… that would be huge.